We've always had a problem with "fake." Whether it was a fake Kate Spade handbag or a knock-off clothing line, fake has always been a part of our culture. Most of this is made popular by the "don't you want to have it, too?" mindset that often surrounds celebrities: "Get the dress Jennifer Aniston wore for only $200!" Most of us, however, can spot fake. Or, to help avoid litigation, many reputable companies offer knock-offs of celebrity Oscar gowns and what-not. Fake, however, is not limited to fashion anymore.
Now, fake and counterfeit has begun permeating the publishing industry. We've seen things like 35 Shades of Grey and other knock-off titles that seem to circumvent any legal challenges, but there's a new challenge on the frontier, that of fake reviews. Do you believe reviews? A majority of us don't, but more often than not we believed the consumer reviews. Not so much anymore, especially now when reviews can be bought, or in some cases, simply faked. The message seems to be: if you want to get noticed, you'd better be prepared to "fake it till you make it." That's a nice saying, in theory, but when you're talking about polluting an Amazon page with a bunch of dummy reviews, that's another story.
So, what's an author to do? I'm sure as time wears on it will be tempting to buy into this but what happens when we do? We end up with a cluttered market packed with "I loved this!" and we're left to wonder, did the person really love it and, even worse, did they even read it? We all want to be liked, or, rather, we want our work to be liked, but to what end?
Several years ago we were on a team retreat. At that time a savvy team member came to me and said, "We can't put our stock in reviews, these folks are inundated with books to look over, we need to find other channels." And so we did. Where we used to do review-centric programs (meaning that the success or failure of a marketing campaign depended on the number of reviews we got), we now offer campaigns that are balanced, and yes, we like to get reviews for our customers, but that's not always the best way to grow your market. Here is perhaps a different set of ideas (and maybe a few you've heard before) about getting exposure and (if you're lucky) getting reviews:
- Stay engaged: I see a lot of folks who aren't engaged in the process or their reader. I'm not talking about running through your to-do list of marketing activities. I'm talking about staying engaged with your reader. Talking to them via your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, whatever. Your reader is your end user, you want reviews to get to them, but in the absence of reviews, guess what? Your outreach to your reader will have a far greater impact on your market and your sales.
- Know the rules: The rules of the game are important. Part of what's so discouraging to bloggers (and eats away at their time) is that authors don't often take the time to know who to pitch. That's what makes paid reviews so tempting (among other things); you can send in a check, and then you get reviews. Real, honest, and thorough reviews take time, but keep this in mind: When this shakes out and presumably "consumer" reviews don't have the credibility they once did, where do you think authors will start to go? To the long-time, credible reviewers -- where it all started. So, get to know them now. They have a following, and people who read them know they can't be bought.
- Start early: As with anything in marketing, start early. I'm going to run through some networking tips in another section but for now, start thinking in terms of early, early, early. How soon should you start? Six months at a minimum.
- Review other books: Reviewing other people's books works great on a number of levels. First and foremost, it's important to support other authors in your market. You want reviews? Guess what? So do they. Get out and review their books; they'll appreciate the effort. Then, when it's time for your book to come out, let them know you're published, offer to send them a copy and (if they have the time) encourage a review. Keep in mind that they may or may not do it. You aren't trading reviews here; you're paying it forward.
- Please and thank you: When was the last time you thanked someone for a review? If you haven't, you should. You'll write more books and may want to pitch them again, and even if you don't, saying thank you takes no work at all. Show them your appreciation. Consider this: Midwest Book Review has worked tirelessly to do reviews for years, they ask for nothing. Occasionally I'll get a letter from them saying, "if you want to help out, we could really use stamps." It's a small thing, with a huge impact. We're all in this together; help out the people who help so many others. Spread the word about the review, thank them, be gracious. You'll be glad you did.
- Network: If the idea of networking makes you think of long, boring events where you hand out your cards like candies out of a Pez dispenser, take heart... it doesn't have to be like that. You can network on a variety of sites. Let's take LinkedIn for example, which is a great place to network with the media. Join groups in your area of expertise and contribute once a week or so, connect with media and bloggers in your market and then comment on their updates and posts. See? You don't even have to leave your house or, for that matter, attend some boring, colorless event to stay connected.
- Social media contacts: When was the last time you went through your social media contacts, your Likes on Facebook, connections on LinkedIn? Part of your monthly networking outreach could be to send a quick note to 4 contacts on each social media site. Why? Because there's a big likelihood that you are connected to a blogger, bookstore buyer, or reviewer. You simply never know who is part of your network unless you take time to explore them!
- Reviews aren't the end game: At the end of the day, reviews may not be the way to greater sales. Consider this: have you ever pitched yourself as a contributor to bloggers or blogs? Have you reached out to any newsletters in your industry? Have you considered excerpting your book online somewhere? Consider other options, brainstorm with other authors who are facing the same challenges.
While we love easy, easy isn't always best. A slew of five-star reviews on an Amazon page is now considered suspect. If you want to build your credibility you'll need to work harder. Consumers want authentic, they want transparency. By looking outside of the norm and really maximizing what you already have access to you, you can rise about the review noise and, in so doing, will begin to build much more credibility for yourself in the long-term. Credibility breeds respect, and that could bring you more legitimate reviews than you know what to do with.
We now live in a world where anyone can publish at anytime. With one click of a button you can become an author. But I believe the journey is much greater than that. It's more than just putting words on paper and hitting a few buttons. It's an effort and it requires time, patience, persistence and passion.
Someone asked me once "Wouldn't it be great if everyone loved your book?" Not really, I said. Not everyone's going to love what I write or what I do. I love the love, but it's in the criticism that I often find my biggest growth.